New Delhi, Feb. 5: Indian Air Force crew “abandoning” a police wireless operator and their helicopter during a rescue mission last month was “highly disturbing” and reflected on the “battle hardiness” of the force, the Union home secretary has written to his defence counterpart.
The letter, dated January 30, a copy of which The Telegraph has seen, says that six IAF personnel abandoned the injured wireless operator of Chhattisgarh police, arms and the helicopter after it was fired at in Naxalite hotbed Sukma. Such conduct is a clear violation of the standard operating procedures, it adds.
“Further, the act by the members of an Armed Force of the Union is extremely disturbing and reflects on their battle hardiness,” the letter from R.K. Singh to Shashi Kant Sharma says, asking for an inquiry and action “deemed fit”.
On January 18, an Mi-17 helicopter of the air force on a rescue and evacuation mission was fired upon by Naxalites and a wireless operator on board was hit. He is critical.
The letter spells out the time the helicopter landed after it was hit — around 5pm on January 18 — and reveals that the injured policeman was evacuated in the “early hours” of January 19 (by the CRPF), indicating how the wireless operator was left without treatment the entire night.
Defence ministry sources today said a court of inquiry is already in progress and the role of other security agencies will also be probed.
The air force holds that its crew acted bravely in manoeuvring and landing in the face of gunfire and has asked for detailed directions from the government for its counter-Naxalite operation because the helicopter was hit even after the police claimed its landing zone was “sanitised”. According to the standard operating procedures, IAF helicopters will take off from base only after they are assured the destination helipad is safe.
Although air force sources today said “action will be initiated against whoever had faltered”, officers took serious offence to doubts about their “battle-hardiness”.
The home secretary acknowledged that the conditions showed the landing site was not properly sanitised by Chhattisgarh police and said the matter was being taken up separately with them. That “however” did not dilute the fact that the IAF personnel violated standard operating procedures, the letter says.